Zynga's latest Facebook game, Adventure World, is another step towards the company's inevitable future: they're teaching their millions of players how to play—and enjoy—"real" video games.
We're not Zynga haters around here -- at least not by default. The way I see it, no matter how addicting, now matter how ably the company is able to capitalise on human beings' need for just one more click, they're still just games. People can stop playing if they don't like them. (I also think most drugs should be legalised and addicts treated instead of jailed, so what do I know?)
There was a moment earlier this week while chatting with Zynga Boston's Seth Sivak, lead designer of Adventure World, where I realised that Zynga is very aware of what they're doing, where they're taking the game experiences they're providing for their customers, and how they're trying to train up the unwashed millions who may not consider themselves "gamers" but are avoiding housework or occupying some down time at the office with a quick Zynga game experience into fans of game playing itself. That's a very good thing for everyone, even the hard core.
But first Adventure World.
"It's tricky to distill Lara Croft into a game that can played with just a left mouse click," Sivak told me. And while few will mistake Adventure World for Tomb Raider, it definitely shares the same general Raiders-inspired aesthetic as well as a focus on combat and puzzle-solving.
That's right: combat. It's a simple thing, but Adventure World has a basic turn-based fighting system that even includes dodges and critical hits. You'll be earning coins to slay mountain goats which pay out more coins, in typical Zynga incentive fashion.
Friends are involved, although not overmuch. Up to 12 Facebook friends can become allies—I believe some puzzles take more than one person to solve, although don't quote me on that—but Adventure World remains largely a single-player experience. And unlike many Zynga titles like Farmville or Empires & Allies, Adventure World is fairly linear, with large isometric worlds stuffed with puzzles that are designed to be navigated and solved linearly. (Bonus worlds can be unlocked by solving extra puzzles on the main maps.)
For a Flash game, the technical underpinnings of Adventure World are pretty impressive. Huge maps. A really nice isometric engine that includes multiple height levels that would really lend itself to a turn-based tactical game.
In short, Adventure World looks like a fun, mildly challenging experience—perfect for the casual market.
It's becoming clear, however, that Zynga is trying to train its audience to appreciate deeper experiences. As painful as it may be to comprehend, "normal" video games can be incredibly daunting for those that didn't bother spending their childhood leaning how to navigate 3D worlds with controllers or keyboards. There are millions -- hell, billions, I'd expect -- that don't have the skill nor desire to learn to play the latest Zelda game who would still enjoy a few minutes here and there with a more digestible, if less nuanced game.
Adventure World shows that Zynga is willing to slowly introduce new gameplay elements to their titles. There are still training wheels on their games (and that's a good thing, considering their market) but the company is starting to give a steady drip of more advanced gameplay ideas and game types to their player base. It's still point-and-wait for the moment, but Adventure World shows a Zynga that in a couple of years might be pushing action games right alongside their more simple fare.
Someday, Zynga might even make a 3D game—as soon as their players have been taught the skills to play.
Adventure World is available for free (with typical Zynga paid upgrades) on Facebook today.